New Tee & Bag Designs for Hub City Co-op (200 Words)

Just wanted to share my latest design project for Hub City Co-op.

I designed these t-shirts and tote bags based on the original mural I painted inside the store. They came out so great and hopefully they are gonna fly off the shelves. 

I put a lot of thought and research into sourcing these.

The tees are super soft polyblend material that people will actually love to wear. They are manufactured in Nicaragua by Next Level, a socially and environmentally responsible and WRAP certified (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) which means no sweat shops, no child labor and environmentally responsibility. 

The 100% organic cotton tote bags by econscious donate a portion of sales to non-profit Partners like 1% for the Planet, the Rodale Institute the Organic Trade Association and Green America. 

They were printed and delivered by a local business, Carolina Headwear

Not only are they fun & functional merchandise, but they also serve as grassroots marketing, as long as customers wear and use them in public. My focus here has been ideas and promotions that are win-win-win and benefit all parties involved, especially the local community. 

So thankful that these peeps let me keep experimenting with and expressing my creativity! 

A Beautiful Bicycle Ride Around Bodensee Lake (300 Words)

Bodensee is a massive, natural lake with shores in three different countries. Here, you can bike through Switzerland, Austria and Germany all in one day. (And you can see Lichtenstein too!)

My sister, brother-in-law and I thought it would be a good idea to go here during a long holiday weekend. Apparently, lots of other people had the same idea.

We took a train from Zurich to Konstanz then biked to a ferry and crossed the lake to Meersburg.

The views include lakeside villages, the Alps, vineyards, forests, apple orchards and roadside gardens. 

Sometimes it felt like we were part of a peloton but mostly it was wide open roads.

It took us at least an hour to find a room for the night and we ended up booking the last two rooms for €160 at a hotel that resembled an old farmhouse called Dorfkrug between the towns of Langenargen and Krossbronn.

This is German territory so naturally there was a bier garten out back. We enjoyed traditional Bavarian dinner and breakfast here as well. 

We stopped in Lindau, Germany for a coffee break and a quick walk around the tiny island. A famous German storybook from my brother-in-law's childhood about a music box maker named Augustin was set here. 

 fairytale tower in Lindau

fairytale tower in Lindau

My brother-in-law departed for a faster and more challenging ride through the hills while my sister and I continued to Bregens, Austria where we had lunch and caught a train to Munich.

In total, we traveled about 60 KM from Konstanz to Bregens which is about 25% of the 256 km of bike paths around the lake. The weather was perfection!

I'd love to come back someday and bike around the whole lake. So glad I got to spend some quality, family time in such a beautiful setting!

Much Love,

5 Tools for Traveling More Sustainably

Airports - and travel in general - are notorious for mindless indulgence. You're easily preoccupied with making sure you get where you need to go, tempted by the endless offerings of duty free items and "disposable" grab and go products and very possibly sleep deprived if you're taking a flight from Charlotte to New York to London to Kuwait to Delhi to Jaipur, for example. 

Not to mention, there is more than enough rubbish littering the landscape in the otherwise beautiful countries through which I like to travel. I'm only recommending investment in these products because I use them myself and it will drastically reduce your consumption of 'disposable' products later.  

  1. Bamboo utensils - This nifty set contains a fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks carved from oh-so-sustainable bamboo. I spare countless plastic utensils in airports and on planes a one way ticket to the trashcan. 
  2. Collapsible silicone cup - You should see some of the looks I get from flight attendants when I whip this little baby out. They range from surprise to amazement but they are usually always impressed and willing to fill it up with my choice of bubbly beverage (usually ginger ale). On particularly long flights like Sydney to LA, I've seen people breeze through up to 8 plastic cups without a care. 
  3. Compact, reusable Enviro bags - I try not to shop too much but I will inevitably have to buy something so each time I reuse this bag, it's one more battle won against my arch nemesis: the ubiquitous plastic bag. Any reusable bag made from canvas, cloth or recycled materials will do! 
  4. Water bottle - As long as you have a reliable source, any reusable water bottle will save you so much money on pre-bottled water and reduces waste. I'm particularly conscious of plastic bottles because it's what I see littering the streets, land and ocean most often. If your water source is questionable, I highly recommend a Lifestraw water bottle with built in filter. I've used it to drink tap water in Bali, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
  5. Glass straw - I don't always use straws but when I do, I prefer one that doesn't get thrown away after one use. Note: To make the most impact with this one, let whoever is preparing your cocktail or chopping the top off of your fresh coconut that you have a straw or better yet, show them. Straws are just handed out like candy at a confectioners convention. 

Here's what I bought from Amazon:

The reusable, foldable shopping bag I bought in Singapore, but you can buy them online.  Any reusable bag will work. 

Of course you don't have to be on your way to an exotic location to use these tools - they're great for everyday use! 

Trekking the Annapurna Circuit, Himalayas, Nepal

Let me just preface this by saying that I had no idea what I would be getting myself into with this whole trekking thing. I have lived at sea level for the past decade and in no way trained for this experience. But it's Nepal and trekking is pretty much the top tourist magnet here. Turns out, it's totally worth the hype. 

DAY 1 / KATHMANDU - POKHARA

The first leg of the trip involved a six hour bus ride from Khatmandu to Pohkara.  Fellow trekkers Julienne from Canada, Deepak from Singapore and Julienne's Nepalese guide, Babu were on the bus as well. These busses go back and forth every day taking tourists to realize their dreams of seeing some Himalayan mountain tops. The busses are all labeled "TOURIST" in huge letters on the front windshield but if the bus is not full upon departure, it picks up and drops off locals in between. In addition to these, we had three longer stops, one for a toilet break (think holes in the ground, not your cushy rest stops in the US), one stop for breakfast and one for lunch. 

 Lakeside Sunset in Pokhara

Lakeside Sunset in Pokhara

After arriving in Pokhara, a driver took us and all our luggage to our hotel called Third Pole. Pokhara is a lovely, lakeside town that is just as touristy as Kathmandu but much cleaner, calmer and quieter. Julienne and I walked and talked around the lake before meeting back at the hotel where Kumar, my and Deepak's guide was waiting. We all then walked along the lake again and after passing on a few restaurants for various reasons, we ended up at a Tibetan restaurant, starving and ready to eat the table and chairs. The service was probably the slowest I've ever had in my life and the whole experience took over two hours. The Tibetan bread was amazing but everything else was meh. 

DAY 2 / POKHARA - NAYAPOL

The following morning, Deepak and I combined a few things into my rucksack and met adorable, young porter named Subus. Now that our six person group was complete, we left Pokhara via van around 9:30 AM. 

It was a rather perilous road trip up the mountain. The roads are in desperate need of repair in many places. Our guides said the India trade embargo is one reason the roads are not being maintained. The air is very hazy and often obscures the view. No doubt air pollution from the cities in Nepal, China and India sadly drifts and settles here. 

NAYAPOL - TIKHEDUNGA

The car dropped us off in a small village called Nayapol. We walked on a rocky road for about an hour and a half before stopping at a roadside cafe for lunch. Apparently it takes a minimum of 1 hour to get your food. I'm assuming they cook everything from scratch. I thoroughly enjoyed my ginger tea and veg momo; steamed dumplings stuffed with basil, onion, carrot and mystery greens with a pink dipping sauce of tomato/garlic/spices. (Mo mo and dahl bhat are the two most common dishes on the trek, and in Nepal in general.) 

We walked another 45 min-hour and arrived at guest house around 4 PM. Since donkeys are the main mode of transportation up here, you have to constantly be on the lookout for piles of donkey crap on the steps and the trails. And you'll probably stop more than once to let a caravan of them pass by. 

I am eternally grateful to our adorable young porter for carrying my bag. I think this is the tipping point that is going to make me pack lighter from now on. 

The first guest house is simple but has clean looking linens, beds and hot showers. There were no outlets in the rooms so I have to charge my phone in the kitchen. So glad I didn't bring my GoPro and a bunch of other gadgets that would need charging. I decided to find a place to meditate before dinner. 

This really is luxury trekking. I enjoyed a hot shower (even too hot at times before I figured out the knobs) and a delicious dinner. I had Dahl bhat with rice, sautéed spinach and potatoes with hot ginger tea to drink. Afterwards, our guides surprised us with an artistically arranged plate of apple and orange slices surrounding a pile of pomegranate seeds in the middle. The food and fruit was deliciously austere. Julienne, Deepak and I conversed a bit more before bet and I think the two of us have persuaded him to commit to vegetarianism again. 

I picked up my phone from the power strip in the kitchen and went to my room, 105. I did my anti-rheumatic yoga series and some reading before snuggling up inside my sleeping bag for the night. 

 Stairs are just a daily part of life for the locals

Stairs are just a daily part of life for the locals

DAY 3 / TIKHEDUNGA - GHOREPANI

Day three was the most intense part of the trek. It was a 5.5 hour uphill battle against steep inclines and stone steps. I was part of a group of six - me, two other Trekkers, two Nepali guides and a porter - but the only person I was competing with was myself. I knew the only way to get through it was to go nonstop so for four hours from roughly 8 AM to exactly noon, so that's what I did. (I did have to pause briefly a few times to make way for a few caravans of transport donkeys to pass but I kept my feet moving.)  I had no idea how many steps there were ahead of or behind me and I had no sense of time. I was just completely focused on the next step. My unofficial mantra was "one more step." Because no matter where you are on the trail, there's always one more step. I felt incredibly present and so focused. We stopped for a lunch break at noon but after refueling on fried rice, I finished the remaining 1.5 hours the same way. 

My journey became a live tortoise and the hare parody. I kept trudging along at my glacial pace while my guide Kumar would hike up ahead of me, plop down on a rock, sometimes making a phone call or two or having a snack. I would walk by, gain a bit of ground and then he would catch up and overtake me again. Slow and steady finishes the race. I'm not guaranteeing you'll win, but you'll at least make it to the end. And that was my only goal: finishing. Also, by taking slow and mindful steps, I'm sure there was less impact/wear & tear on my joints so that should help prevent some future physical pain and suffering. 

A few thoughts wandered into my mind but I just acknowledged them and let them briskly pass by, like the German-speaking groups that whizzed past me with walking poles and large packs that were surely born and raised in the Alps. 

And even they are no big deal compared to the local Nepali people that hike up and down these steps like it's their job - because in most cases, it is. I passed a group of kids (or rather they passed me) that were practically sprinting down the stairs towards school in their uniforms. Which means they commute up and down these steps five days a week for probably at least a decade. And then there's the adults who carry heavy loads on their backs that are tethered around their foreheads while wearing flip flops. Not to mention how exponentially more work it is to build the steps in the first place than just to traverse them. These passing thoughts helped keep me motivated. After all, thousands of other people have completed this trek before me and thousands more will do it after I'm done. 

Our guides claim that we climbed over 3,000 steps toward the summit. Uneven, randomly spaced steps that were just flat rocks hammered into the dirt. But the only number that mattered to me was one. One more step. This little droplet of enlightenment really makes me excited to make trekking more of a regular habit. 

DAY 4 / GHOREPANI - POON HILL

I woke up early 4 AM to trek up to the summit of Poon Hill to watch the sun rise over Annapurna. You guessed it, more stairs. This time in the pre-dawn darkness and extremely packed with people. (The sunrise trek is somewhat of a bottleneck on the trail; this is the only time I encountered so many people at once during the trek.) 

Not to mention poor Julienne was sick and vomiting most of the morning but she's a rock star and still managed to reach the summit and trek to Tadapani later. The mighty mountains looked just as I had expected; jagged snow-capped peaks rising out of the mist. I saw a splash of color from the sunrise but it was mostly obscured by clouds. 

 VICTORY! Babu, Julienne, me, Deepak and Kumar

VICTORY! Babu, Julienne, me, Deepak and Kumar

GHOREPANI - TADAPANI 

 A typical Trek Brek: (Tibetan) Bread, eggs, potatoes, tea. 

A typical Trek Brek: (Tibetan) Bread, eggs, potatoes, tea. 

After breakfast, even more stairs led us into an enchanted-looking, fairytale forest. So many beautiful trees exploding with colorful blossoms, especially pink rhododendron. I got many more great views of those frosted peaks. I also finally gave in and got a walking stick, or rather, Kumar found one for me. It was such a relief and really helped me get up and down those steps and steep inclines. 

I saw a European family of four with an older porter carrying three full rucksacks lashed together on his back. Supposedly there are regulations that are supposed to limit the loads that porters carry, but I don't think they are really enforced. Just feels wrong to make one person bear that much weight, especially when most of it is probably crap you don't need in the first place. The family didn't seem all too concerned and trotted along between breaks to take pictures, hardly acknowledging their poor porter. 

Kumar and I arrived in Tadapani around 3 PM. I had to wait for Subus to arrive before I could take a hot, solar-powered shower. Then the temperature dropped and it was so, so cold that evening. The chill made me eat too much for dinner: Dahl bhat plus two ginger teas plus rice pudding plus fruit. I shivered myself to sleep, wearing two layers of clothes, socks, tucked inside my sleeping bag and under another blanket.

But what this guest house lacked in comfort, it made up for with consistent power and Internet. There was a big, loud German family that I passed on the trail that ended up staying the night here as well. Some of them even slept in a yellow tent outside instead of in the rooms. They could be annoying but I liked the fact that the kids were all interacting with each other, talking, playing cards, instead of being absorbed into electronic devices. They were even whittling away at their own walking sticks the next morning with legit hunting knives. What an awesome way to grow up. I hope they appreciate it. 

DAY 5 / TADAPANI - GHANDRUK 

Day five led us mostly down through a magical, mossy meadow. Sometimes I felt like I was in Middle Earth on a mission to take a ring to Mordor. Other times I felt like I was wandering through a pre-historic landscape and would surely discover dinosaurs around the corner at any given moment. 

We came upon a metropolis of karsts, or stacks of stones, that countless tourists had built and left using the smooth, flat stones in and around the river. They were everywhere in all shapes and sizes. Of course I had to stop and build a couple, myself. 

 My preciousssss (I kinda look like Smeagol/Gollum here with my karst)

My preciousssss (I kinda look like Smeagol/Gollum here with my karst)

Remember the amazing meal I had on the first trek day? I again ordered Mo Mo which this time only consisted of bitter greens and no other flavor except maybe some salt. I learned the hard way that while the menu is pretty much the same at all of the guesthouses along the way, the taste and quality is wildly inconsistent.After about an hour and a half more up and down hills with Stickly (as I named my walking stick) by my side, Kumar and I reached our destination for the day: Ghandruk. 

Our guesthouse in Ghandruk was by far the best place I've stayed in Nepal, period. The food was incredible and the rooms had all the luxuries: en suite toilets and showers and power outlets in the rooms and very few power cuts. It rained that evening which was a bummer at the time but helped to clear the air for spectacular view the following morning. 

 The amazing view from Ghandruk 

The amazing view from Ghandruk 

DAY 6 / GHANDRUK - NAYAPOL

While I was waiting for breakfast, a Tibetan refugee named Tenzing showed Deepak and I his arts and crafts for sale. He said that he has a wife and two children living in a refugee camp and so I was a bit guilted into buying a black onyx bracelet bearing a white Om symbol from him for 300 rupees (about $3 USD). Not to get too political, but it's pretty terrible how China annexed Tibet and is basically eradicating their amazing and unique culture. And even worse how most of the world doesn't seem to care because it doesn't affect the global economy. Sigh. 

The trek back from Ghandruk was almost all downhill. I passed countless villages and reveled in the sight of people going about their daily lives: herding goats, working the fields, hanging fresh laundry, cooking and weaving baskets. I greeted pretty much everyone with a friendly "Namaste" and often got the same response. 

Our group reached the last tourist checkpoint and crossed the bridge to a guest house for lunch. The clouds were closing in ominously around us and we knew the rain would start soon. We ate quickly, put rain covers on our packs and rain jackets on ourselves and double timed it towards Nyapol. We reached a covered shop just as big, fat raindrops were starting to fall. We waited a while for the storm to blow over but it was still a wet, slow ride down the mountain. The bags that had been tied to the roof on the way up, now had to be stored inside on laps since the rain refused to stop. We arrived back at the same hotel in Pokhara about two hours later. That night Deepak, Julienne and I gladly indulged with a pizza each for dinner at a super touristy spot called The Godfather. So worth it.

DAY 7 / POKHARA - KATHMANDU

We were packed, fed and back on the TOURIST bus by 7:30 AM. Again we stopped at several random spots to pick up locals and had short breaks for breakfast and lunch. Then we got stuck in a massive traffic jam on the mountain back to Kathmandu since there is only one road in and one road out. There was no AC on the bus but the fans worked sometimes. I'm pretty sure there was one truck broken down about half way up the mountain that both lanes had to take turns detouring around. This return trip totaled almost 9 hours, 3 hours longer than the previous trip. Once we were finally freed, I had to say some hasty goodbyes and catch a cab out to my next destination/adventure: a workaway homestay in a village called Changu Narayan. 

 Panoramic view from Poon Hill

Panoramic view from Poon Hill

I am very proud of this physical and mental accomplishment because for the past decade I have lived at almost zero elevation and have virtually no trekking experience. I completely credit my dedication to yoga and meditation with giving me the physical and mental strength to make it up this Himalayan Mountain. It's also the first time I feel like my sporadic meditation has had a noticeable effect on an otherwise unrelated aspect of my life. This of course makes me want to meditate more regularly. I actually did an hour's worth of sun salutations and other asanas (with emphasis on the hips) prior to and during the trek and I'm sure this helped me make it to the top. And every bit of effort was worth being able to see that spectacular sun rise over those famous, jagged, snow-capped peaks. 

Thailand Temple Time: Part II

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

 The border mountains with Burma

The border mountains with Burma

Thailand is the cleanest Asian country I’ve visited. (Well not counting Singapore which is almost sterile since everything is concrete or indoors.) In the past few countries, there is rubbish everywhere and people tend to put it in piles and burn it from time to time. Bleh - the smell of burning plastic is the worst. But not Thailand - they even have recycling! And I didn’t believe this at first but there are also people that make a living by going through the bright blue garbage bins and taking out anything that is recyclable as well.

 Recycling makes me happy! 

Recycling makes me happy! 

I was surprised  that the traffic here is pretty much a parade of pick-up trucks. While waiting at a bus stop one day, I counted and there is literally about one sedan for every 20 trucks. Then at the other extreme lots of people buzz by on motorbikes as well. Maybe it’s just Fang but I just expected mostly motorbikes with some small cars mixed in and even tuk-tuks.

 image source: thaizer.com

image source: thaizer.com

There are pictures of the royal family everywhere. On calendars in shops and restaurants, framed in the middle of street medians, on giant billboards. But most of them are not current and show especially the king in his much younger days. Not that I would have any reason to, but I’ve been told on multiple occasions not to insult the king as Thai people are very patriotic and hold their king in high regard.

THE TEMPLE TOUR

I thoroughly enjoyed the little temple tour that was arranged for us on Sunday. Oui, a Thai lay person that runs a canteen at the nearby school and helps out around the temple, drove us around in a truck to three very different temples north of Fang. The first was a traditional Chinese Buddhist temple which is not out of place since there’s a pretty significant population of them in Northern Thailand. It featured the traditional style architecture with the sloping roofs, lots of red and gold, paper lanterns and dragons draped over everything. There was also a ginormous Budai statue, or the Laughing/Fat Buddha that most people recognize in the West because they are always in Chinese restaurants and nail salons. Budai was a Chinese monk who was so well liked and admired that the Chinese consider him a Matrea or Future Buddha. Not the same at all as the original calm, cross-legged, meditating Buddha that lived in India 2500 years ago.

 Budai 

Budai 

 Chinese temple

Chinese temple

The second stop was an immaculate meditation retreat (open to Thai only) with a golden pagoda that you could see shining amongst the green mountains from far away. As we were driving up the last incline to the entrance, the left and right sides of the road were lined with adorable, lotus-shaped huts that house the resident nuns and guests. The circular temple was gorgeous inside and out and had a series of paintings of the Buddha’s life and legends on the inner walls and a lotus mural carved and painted all along the outer walls. In the center of the temple was a delicate looking glass structure that made me feel like I was looking at a scale model of the Emerald City from Oz. Strategically placed throughout the property was a collection of statues of Buddha, devas and nagas like an outdoor art gallery.

 Golden pagoda

Golden pagoda

 Mini Emerald City? 

Mini Emerald City? 

After this we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch and I had pad see ew - the closest thing they served to pad thai. It was basically big, flat noodles with veggies. I was craving a salty snack while they prepared my food so I perused the racks of potato chips that they had to offer - and even 90% of these were meat flavored! There was pork, shrimp, chickend and even cuttlefish flavored crackers or chips, along with like two regular potato flavors and one bag of Thai Cheetohs. I ended up skipping the junkfood appetizer.

 Cuttlefish Crackers, anyone?

Cuttlefish Crackers, anyone?

Our last stop was an impressive, seven level Forest Temple that was about as close to the Burma border as you can get. The mountains to the west form a natural border with Burma and Graham even pointed out a military base in a clearing atop one of the peaks. I was probably way too excited to see a cat which was pretty scraggly looking and was missing an eye, but still… kitty!

 Forest Temple Meditation Trail

Forest Temple Meditation Trail

There was an amazing little meditation path the wound through the woods and ended at a giant concrete ‘boat’ overlooking the Me Kok river. The panoramic views of the landscape were incredible from this vantage point. As we walked along the path, Graham told us that some of the older monks can recall the days when wild tigers and elephants used to roam the area but of course they have long since disappeared. The trees would be gone too if it wasn’t protected temple land, and even then some loggers still try to force their way in sometimes.

 Wat Thaton

Wat Thaton

This is also the location of Wat Thaton, an impressive, rainbow colored temple that houses a variety of Buddhist relics, so it’s kind of like a museum too. There are even ornamental baby Buddhas outside. We took a break here before heading home and I indulged in ice cream, thai iced milk tea and had a cup of traditional hot tea.

FRIDAY FEELS

So many feels today! I decided to have lunch at the canteen that Oui and his wife manage at the school. Yesterday he invited me there for lunch and said his wife would cook me something vegetarian but I wasn’t feeling great yesterday so I just had toast here instead. Today I walked over at a quarter past 11 and all the monks were heading to lunch as well. Oui wasn’t there but his wife was and she was very cute and very pregnant. She offered me iced thai green tea which is very sweet and loaded with condensed milk. Then she cooked me a simple meal of some sort of greens and sprouts with sauce on a bed of rice. I covertly added my usual handful of peanuts for protein and flavor. (I always do this at alms breakfast as well.)

I sat by myself at the end of a picnic style wooden table. It was just like sitting in a cafeteria back home except the students were all boys with shaved heads, wearing bright orange uniforms. One monk cautiously walked past me and said hello. I responded “hello” enthusiastically and eventually he sat down at the table - as far away from me as possible on the other side, but still. He had pretty good English and I found out he was 18 and his name is Kon. After a few moments, another monk shyly approached, said hello and politely asked permission if he could sit across from me. “Yes, of course!” He was very eager to practice his English and was so honest that he admitted he was nervous to practice with me and that he needs to work on his confidence. I assured him that his English was very good. His name is Long and he is 17. He practices a lot because he wants to study English at University and I don’t blame him. It will definitely open up a lot more opportunities for him. The two boys were in the same class and they have been monks for 5 years.

By this time, it was time for them to go back to class so they excused themselves and I thanked them for talking with me. The temple gets plenty of guests but I doubt most of them interact with the monks so much. I really hope I gave those two kids some confidence after our little chat!

 School for Monks

School for Monks

When I was finished with my meal, Oui’s wife offered to refill my tea and I asked her how much for lunch and she insisted it was free. I had a 100 baht note (about $3 USD) in my pocket and tried to hand it to her but she refused until I insisted she take it for the baby (in her tummy). She finally accepted it with a wide grin and I walked away with a smile, myself. It can be a bit intimidating being the totally obvious, odd person out but all the Thai people I’ve met so far are so nice so it really hasn’t been bad at all.

Another English-speaking monk actually added me on Facebook last week which I thought was a bit strange at first but then I thought they are just people that want to make connections like everyone else. I'm pretty sure he's going to University soon and may not even be a monk after that. Who knows? 

 Longtail, our resident roadblock

Longtail, our resident roadblock

As of today everyone else is gone, even the coordinator, Graham (but he has a good excuse: he’s getting married.) So it’s just me and Longtail, our resident temple dog who I sometimes prefer to call Roadblock because she is always laying across one of the top stairs so that we have to step over her completely. She rarely moves - I think because the other dogs tend to bully her but she’s got it made and gets her own food and water and far more attention than all the others.

I'll be leaving on a mini bus to Changmai city on Sunday but I'm super thankful for this incredible, unique and inspiring experience. 

Week Three Wildlife in Thailand

For my last week at the sanctuary I switched over from elephants to work with the rest of the wildlife. These can be divided into a few sub-groups: two types of Bears, Primates, which include macaques, gibbons,  dusky langurs and one Capuchin, Nocturnals comprised of several slow lorises, a binturong and leopard cats and other wildlife consists of deer, otter, birds, reptiles and some other miscellaneous creatures. There is also a slew of domestic animals that have been collected over the years: at least a dozen dogs, a handful of cats, pigs and piglets, a horse and too many chickens. I got to work with or for all of these animals at one point or another during this week. 

The center cares for dozens of bears, most of whom were rescued from various places that thought it was a good idea to keep them as pets. You can literally buy bear cubs - and many other animals stolen from the wild - at some night markets throughout Thailand. They arrive unsocialized and malnourished as they were often fed soda, candy and junk food in small, cramped cages. 

Sun Bears and mostly black with a few tan markings and are known for their dragon-lady like long claws that I'm pretty sure they use mostly for digging because I've had to avoid several holes when cleaning their enclosures. They seem pretty small, until they stand up, and then they look pretty intimidating. We feed them a variety of fruit and often hide pieces in trees and tires and scatter it around their habitats to keep them stimulated. (Obviously the bears are locked in their dens when we do this.) We also sometimes stuff bamboo with pieces of corn and cucumber like a type of puzzle. Its really cute to watch because they usually sit down and play with it for a while before they finally pry it open; either by pulling out the piece of corn that acts like a cork or just breaking the piece of bamboo wide open. They're almost all adults but there is one mamma bear and a 12 week old cub that are heart-meltingly adorable. There are some really fluffy Asiatic Black Bears scattered amongst the bear habitats as well. 

 Looks like a bear bong lol 

Looks like a bear bong lol 

The primates are probably the biggest challenge because they are smart and they are cheeky. I learned this the hard way. Generally, we put their fruit and veggie salads in baskets and they reach through the fences to retrieve it. As I was feeding a macaque named Dollar, he swiftly reached through the fence and grabbed my teal blue sunglasses right off my head and promptly dismembered them. I also got a bit too close to one of the gibbon enclosures during feeding time and a hairy go-go-gadget arm came out of nowhere and grabbed my hair, jerking my head back pretty fast. I'm glad it was french-braided at the time, otherwise, he might have pulled some hair out completely. 

 A gibbon, or as I prefer to call it, a Grabbin' 

A gibbon, or as I prefer to call it, a Grabbin' 

There are several breeds of macaque, generally categorized by tail-type. There are long-tailed, stump-tailed and pig tailed and they abound all over Thailand. You'll see them lurking around temples and terrorizing villages. I guess I can't really blame them because people have taken over much of their habitat. The gibbons swing from tree to tree using their disproportionately long arms and make the most interesting and after while annoying howling sounds. The noises alternate between police siren and R2D2 and it always sounds like they are watching an intense soccer game where their team is really close to scoring a goal but the ball doesn't actually make it into the net. 

 Many, many macaques 

Many, many macaques 

I find the dusky langurs really creepy as their face markings kind of make them look like members of the Insane Clown Posse. They always come out of nowhere and clasp the cage at eye level with you, bearing their teeth and making little gurgly/clikcy sounds. A lot of them have chain link tunnels connected to their cages that are suspended high in the trees and they will try to poop or pee on you if the timing is right. 

 Creepy, clown-faced little monkey!

Creepy, clown-faced little monkey!

The nocturals were some of my favorites. The slow lorises are so cute, which is why there is such a huge issue with them being kept as pets. Despite their large, innocent-looking eyes, their teeth are poisonous and therefore often get yanked out without anesthetic to prevent their toxic bites. They are also night-dwellers so the daylight hurts their eyes and they are never feed correctly when kept as pets. These poor creatures get tortured then locked away in tiny cages just so someone can occasionally take them out and use them for their own amusement. Which brings me to my next point: photo props. Wherever the tourists go, the animal handlers follow, hoping to make a quick buck by exploiting their heavily drugged and/or sedated animal for pictures. DO NOT ENCOURAGE THIS INDUSTRY. Don't take pictures with wild animals when approached and don't go to tiger temples or anywhere else that promises safe interaction with an animal that would naturally want to rip your face off. 

One last quick anecdote about the slow loris. I helped my team leader with nocturnals on my very first day of wildlife and somehow one of their cages got left open. He had the keys but it was dumping rain so I'm not sure how happened. I didn't find out until the next day, at which point I felt horrible, but luckily the same leader found the slow loris that afternoon in a nearby tree because as their name suggests, they don't move very fast. I was so relieved. And I do a pretty amazing slow loris voice, according to my roommates. :P 

 Slow Loris

Slow Loris

There are a few orange and green iguanas that reminded me of Miami. They never eat all their food and they love to have water sprinkled on them with the hose. There is one crocodile that gets fed one chicken per week by the Thai staff. There are a few birds of prey and a few non-native parrot species including a Macaw named Blue that will shout Hello (and sometimes expletives) at you as you pass by his enclosure. There is Bernie, the brain-damaged (dropped on his head by people as a fledgling) Cassowary that eats a lot of fruit and looks like a rather pre-historic creature. He looks like a cross between a colorful ostrich and a velociraptor and has the capacity to kill you but doesn't really realize it. The otters are freakin adorable and sound like living squeaky toys but their enclosure always smells a bit like dead fish because thats what they eat. 

The pigs and chickens and deer can be a nuisance but are useful as the scavengers of the sanctuary because they eat all the leftovers from our dinner and scraps from food prep for the other animals and whatever the monkeys drop or intentionally toss out of their baskets. 

If you've ever worked in the food service industry, volunteering for wildlife is a breeze. Its literally like working in a restaurant for wildlife: you prepare food, serve food and wash dishes. There is also a fair amount of pool and enclosure cleaning to keep everyone happy and healthy. When comparing it to the elephants work, it's more tedious and there is more to do, both because less people volunteer with wildlife and because there are so many more animals that require smaller meals. Working with elephants is like a series of sprints with lots of breaks whereas working with the rest of the wildlife is more like a daily marathon. 

I also took on another special project utilizing my occupational skills. Apparently there was a falling out with a former designer and she sabotaged a nearly 40-page document detailing everything e new volunteer needs and wants to know. All the fonts were converted to outlines, rendering them inevitable, and the pictures were all unlinked, making the document useless for printing. I helped teach their assistant In-Design (the whole teach a man to fish vs give a man a fish principle) and helped rebuild the file as well. I was really grateful for this extra experience because I enjoyed getting to know Tommy the UK Sanctuary manager and Edwin, the sanctuary's Dutch Founder. 

I was a bit sad to leave but I think three weeks was the perfect amount of time for me here. I would love to come back for another visit and encourage anyone else that loves animals to volunteer here! 

 Furry bug, Limpy Gimp & Blister Girl

Furry bug, Limpy Gimp & Blister Girl

Bentota and/or Aluthgama, Sri Lanka

Since we only work in the morning on Fridays, three other girls and I decided to spend the afternoon in another town called Bentota. We piled into a tuk tuk and headed north. We weren’t 100% sure where the town was or what it looked like but our driver dropped us off on the side of the road between the beach and some buildings a few kilometers after we passed a sign that said Bentota on it. Some locals directed us west toward the ‘city center’ so we walked in that direction, and soon realized we were being followed. An older gentleman in a sarong, button down shirt and flip-flops offered to take us to the temple, which he said was just down the road. 

We were very cautious and hesitant. I thought about it as we walked and decided he was either going to murder us in the woods, or actually take us to the temple and ask for a tip afterwards. We gambled on the latter, and after walking about 30 minutes through the jungle, we did, indeed arrive at a temple, which may or may not be the Galapatha Raja Maha Vihare Buddhist temple. (I couldn’t find anything identifying it in English at the site so I Googled it later.) I could tell the structure was very old but the interior was immaculately maintained and boasted beautiful tile, several colorful murals from floor to ceiling and a ginormous Sleeping Buddha statue with intricately patterned & painted feet. Of course at the end of our tour, we were asked to leave a donation for the temple so we each put 100 rupees through the slot in the wooden box that is intended for that purpose. 

 Jungle Temple Entrance

Jungle Temple Entrance

 Inside the Temple

Inside the Temple

After that, our guide (who never actually shared his name) led us to the lagoon, where we boarded a traditional flat canoe-type boat which he and one other man rowed for us with long, thin, wooden paddles. We asked the cost up front and he quoted us $1,000 rupees each (about $7.50 USD) which seemed a little steep, but we were kind of a captive audience because we didn’t know how else to get to the city. It ended up being a pretty nice ride that lasted close to an hour. We paddled around mangroves and along the shore of the lagoon, where I noticed the nicest houses I’ve seen yet in Sri Lanka. Our guide told us that many Europeans live here, so that explains the more lavish residences. We saw some snakes and some monitor lizards along the way before being dropped off at a vacant marketplace, which comes alive on Mondays only. 

 Simple boats

Simple boats

We paid for the lagoon cruise and walked into what we assumed to be the city center since the street was lined with shops and the streets were full of people and various vehicles. This is where we and our guide parted ways, after he asked for a tip as I had expected. We gave him close to $1,000 rupees total, confident that he also got a cut of fee for the ‘cruise’ for which he had recruited us. He thanked us and claimed to have three children, for which he was going buy for for with said compensation. Who knows if this was true or not, but even though we got a bit taken advantage of as somewhat naive tourists, I think both parties benefitted from the "impromptour." We got see some sights that we had no idea were there and he made some money. Plus, it was super sustainable since we walked the whole time and the boat was people-powered. 

 Row, row, row your boat

Row, row, row your boat

We were the only tourists around so everyone was hollering at us to come into their shops. We browsed a few before starting a new mission to find food. Another, younger local that looked to be around our age approached us and promised to take us to the best restaurant in town. We figured ‘what the heck’ and made sure to check the menu before deciding to actually eat at the restaurant, which had a pretty nice view overlooking the river. One girl has seafood and the rest of us reveled in the simple yet satisfying familiarity of our sandwiches and fries. 

 The closest thing to a sunset I've been able to capture because clouds!!! 

The closest thing to a sunset I've been able to capture because clouds!!! 

We decided to save some money and take a train back to the beach house but had some trouble finding the station. It was getting dark and we gave up on hoofing it finally just found a tuk tuk to take us to the station for about 100 rupee. Turns out, we had missed our turn and walked too far. The train ticket was only $50 rupees each and I am very impressed with their thick, letterpress-style tickets! We were a bit confused, though, because we were at the Aluthgama station, when we were supposed to be in Bentota. When the train finally arrived about half an hour later, the first station we passed was Bentota, so we hypothesized that our driver had intentionally driven us too far in order to benefit his buddy that took us on our tour - but we can’t confirm this theory. 

 Letterpress-ish train ticket 

Letterpress-ish train ticket 

We got back to the house in time for dinner then went out for ice cream downtown before calling it a night. 

Eco Update: Sri Lanka

The most common, and most fun, method of transportation around here is the auto rickshaw, also called a tuk tuk or a three wheeler. It’s kind of a hybrid between a golf cart and a motorcycle and transports a driver and up to three passengers. I’ve had several tuk tuk rides since arriving in Sri Lanka so I was curious to find out how efficient and eco-friendly they are (or aren’t.) 

Since they are so much smaller than standard vehicles, they get much better gas mileage; typically 35 km/liter (or 82 mpg) of petrol and their CO2 emissions are about a third less. Older models have two stroke engines, which cause a lot of particulate (soot) pollution. Newer models with four stroke engines more thoroughly burn the fuel and are more efficient. The Sri Lankan government actually banned two-stroke engines in 2007 to reduce air pollution so most of the tuk tuks here should be four stroke, but I’m sure the old ones still slip through the cracks. (Source)

So overall, I can confirm are much more efficient and also cost much less than traditional taxis. And did I mention, they’re just so much fun to zip around in? They effortlessly swerve right around busses, bikes, pedestrians, cows and whatever else happens to be on the road. 

Living in the beach house sans air con, hot water and basic appliances also saves a lot of energy. They also cook in bulk for the house and the food seems to be pretty local. Lots of rice and noodles and pineapple. Sri Lanka has the best pineapple I’ve ever tasted by the way; the perfect mix of tangy and sweet. I also avoid buying a bunch of plastic bottles and just keep refilling the same one with the filtered water that is provided for us. 

However, there is no recycling anywhere in the country. I seriously cringe and possibly even twitch every time I have to scrape food scraps onto plastic bottles in the bin because I am such a serial recycler at home. 

 Skeptical turtle is skeptical 

Skeptical turtle is skeptical 

The turtle compounds are 100% natural and sustainable as far as I can tell because all we use is sea water, sand and coconut husks to clean the turtles and the same plus a few tools to clean the tanks. I confirmed with our coordinator, Isuru, that the fish we feed the turtles is caught by local Sri Lankan fisherman. (I even get to feed some leftover fish to a smart, little kitty that I named Latte since she has milk and coffee colored fur.) The only environmental concern I can discern is the paint we use to add to the hodgepodge murals on the walls. 

 Latte is ready for some leftovers!

Latte is ready for some leftovers!

The garbage that accumulates on the surrounding beaches does the most immediate damage, so I bought some garbage bags in town and initiated a clean up effort. In around an hour, we filled five bags, mostly with plastic bottles, orphaned flip flops and pieces of styrofoam. Most people are just apathetic or ignorant or both here and there is trash everywhere. Each time I try to think about a solution for one problem here, it invariably leads to thinking about more problems and more possible solutions and can become an overwhelming and vicious cycle. 

The only thing I was caught off guard by was a boat tour on the Madu River that we did last week. The boats are old with really crappy engines that smell and spew fumes into the air and water. And I know they’re just perpetually running all day taking groups of tourists through the mangroves and to have their feet nibbled by fish. They also exploited a baby monkey and a baby crocodile for pictures (in hopes of tips), which I didn’t like. 

 Bad boats. You are not eco-friendly! 

Bad boats. You are not eco-friendly! 

There is definitely lots of progress still to be made in Sri Lanka but I think I am staying pretty true to my sustainable traveling philosophy here.  

Mirambling Muses: Singapore

Well that week pretty much flew by. It was so nice to catch up with my sister and just let my guard down and relax for a bit. We didn't have anything really specific planned beforehand, so I just kind of made things up as I went along. 

The typical Singapore tourist comes here for perpetual shopping trips, fancy hotels and/or cosmetic surgery. Therefore, I didn't notice a ton of backpackers and probably wouldn't have stopped here had my amazing sister not been here with a free place to stay. However, there is a ton of budget-friendly culture, fun and excitement to be had if you know where to look.

Here are my highlights:

Red Dot Design Center

If you're a design geek like me, you have to visit the Red Dot Design Museum. It's a bright red building on the outskirts of Chinatown and it's full of all kinds of innovative and modern design including industrial, product, packaging and concept. There are lots of interactive iPad displays and you can touch and play with everything! There's some neat stuff in the shop as well. I picked up a couple letterpress postcards and seriously considered a recycled vinyl laptop sleeve. Learn more about Red Dot and their international Design Awards here

Chinatown

Of the designated traditional ethnic areas, Chinatown was the most fun. The streets are lined with lanterns small shops selling everything from silk robes to custom cut paper portraits and any & all kinds of Singapore and traditional Chinese souvenirs. And there is also no shortage of meal options. You'll find fresh produce (including the spiky, stinky-foot-smelling fruit, Durian) street food vendors and more traditional restaurants. I'm quite sure I need to start employing a food chaperone that is more familiar with these exotic foods, because I've made some regrettable decisions. The most memorable being a delicious-looking mountain of rainbow snow cone bliss, which turned out to be more like miscellaneous, dessert nachos. The base was beans, mystery jelly and pieces of mangosteen supporting an odd-tasting assortment of flavored ice and then topped with creamed corn. Taste, texture, everything, was just weird. 

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must-see with its colorful, ornate decor and literally hundreds of statues and I was quite surprised to see people square dancing (to modern, English pop music, no less) near the Chinatown Complex. 

Gardens by the Bay 

These giant greenhouse gardens are located in the shadow of the huge and hideous (IMO) Marina Bay Sands Hotel. There are actually two Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Jamie and I opted to only do one as we were short on time and didn't want to pay double the cost. The cloud forest was a nice respite from the city summer heat and we walked past the waterfalls, up the ramps, around the top and back down to the educational area. The flora was immaculately maintained and they even used misters to simulate foggy clouds. At the end, there is a dark room full of colorful, projected info graphics that educate you about the environment and it's biggest threats and you end by watching a short doomsday video about climate change where they describe a dying earth over the next hundred years. Then they rewind and give you hope again saying all that can be avoided if we take action today. They're preaching to the choir with regards to me and my sister but I hope it had an impact on everyone else passing through. This time, I didn't mind exiting through the gift shop because they had a bunch of awesome & eco-friendly stuff. I found some beautiful post cards designed by Peranakan Inspirations as well as this awesome little travel backpack that folds up into a small pouch. 

And I can't forget the super trees! They are these hybrid plant/solar structures that stand about 16 stories tall and collect solar energy so they can light up at night so they're self-sustaining. And the look pretty cool too. 

Street Art

I found the biggest concentration of street art in the Malay/Muslim district on Haji Lane. While admiring the incredible colors & designs, I turned the corner and found a group of  girls with American accents doing inversions in front of one of the murals. Turns out, one of them is kind of a big deal and teaches all over Asia but is based in Sinapore. Marysia invited me to one of her classes at Pure Yoga and I enthusiastically accepted her offer. I actually ended up doing two classes in a row the following morning; first a moderate Hatha class followed by a class called Upside Down, which is the hardest class I’ve ever attempted. The main focus was handstands and arm balances. I got a ton of tips from both Marysia and a pretty petite yet bad ass yogi next to me named Sen. The poses seemed almost effortless for her and she had short black hair with blonde streaks and an asian/egyptian pair of eyes tattooed at the base of her neck that stared at me everytime we posed facing the left wall. I was so satisfied with and grateful for the classes and really feel like I made significant progress in my practice. 

 

Public transportation is plentiful and my sister and I took trains, busses, Uber and cabs. My biggest gripe is that stamps and letter boxes are nearly impossible to find here. 

Mirambling Muses: Cairns, Australia

I had so much fun in Cairns that I wanted to share my favorite cheap, free, local, sustainable, inspirational and/or must-not-miss things to do there. It's incredibly tourist and backpacker friendly, boasting tons of hostels, rentals & hotels and there is free community wifi in several spots throughout the city. The main part of town is relatively compact and easy to walk to all of the locations listed below. Oh and one last tip: the locals drop the i and the r pronounce it like cans

7. Snoogie's Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurant 

This gem is a bit hard to find, tucked away in the Main Street Arcade (82 Lake Street) a bit north of Gilligan's. I found out about it myself after chatting up a local shop owner after lusting after her lunch. It's pretty much the most affordable and delicious healthy food and juice bar you'll find in Cairns. I really wish I'd discovered it sooner because this was my favorite food place. And I'm not alone; it's ranked #1 out of 381 restaurants in Cairns based on its 42 glowing reviews on Trip Advisor

6. Cairns Regional Gallery

An eclectic Art Gallery with a variety of exhibitions where you can escape the sun or the rain and see lots of work from Aussie artists. Admission is only $5 per adult and they're open 7 days a week. Or just visit the shop which offers a unique collection of design, crafts and jewelry by local and national artisans. You'll find much better souvenirs and gifts than the generic, tacky tourist shops you'll find everywhere else. 

 Image Source: Trip Advisor

Image Source: Trip Advisor

5. The Night Market

Located 71-75 on the Esplanade, the quirky Night Market is not to be missed! There is a self-serve food court serving up a variety of Asian favorites, hair and nail services, lots of souvenir shops and the famous $15 massages. You can find everything from locally crafted clothing & jewelry to custom airbrushed hats to postcards to kangaroo scrotum keychains. Shops are open 5-11 PM, Food Court from 10 AM - 11 PM and Massages from 12 noon - 11 PM. 

 Note: I do not endorse the sale nor purchase of these. I just needed pictorial proof of their absurd existence. 

Note: I do not endorse the sale nor purchase of these. I just needed pictorial proof of their absurd existence. 

4. The Esplanade

A super fun and free place to hang out, situated along 2.5 km of the Cairns coast. The lagoon is a free, public swimming pool, there's a boardwalk for exercise and/or people watching, plenty of open grassy areas and playgrounds and free community wifi. I often saw street performers and lots of people relaxing with a book or enjoying a picnic. If there are any events or festivals going on, they'll most likely be here. There are some free Active LIving classes you can take advantage of as well. I participated in yoga on Fridays at 6:30 AM. 

 The Lagoon

The Lagoon

3. Graff Alley

The largest concentration of Street Art I could find in Cairns. Located off of Grafton Street almost across from Gilligan's (the biggest and most infamous hostel in the city). Amongst all the murals, there's also a rather popular coffee shop called Caffeind and the Alleyway Paint & Skate shop. 

2. Rusty's Markets

Great place to buy local groceries or grab a bit to eat. I found all kinds of foreign fruits I can't get back home and I found the stall owners are really friendly. There's also a fresh juice bar and reflexology & thai massage as well as jewelry and clothing for sale. However, it's only open on the weekends; Friday & Saturday 5 AM - 6 PM and Sunday 5 AM - 3 PM. (Also located just past Gilligan's on Grafton Street.) 

1. The Great Barrier Reef

The harbor is packed with boats that will take you to see and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I can recommend Passions of Paradise ($159/adult + $10 reef tax) since that's the eco-certified boat that took me out to discover their natural treasures. But there are other sustainable options like the Reef Daytripper ($124/adult + $15 reef tax) and Ocean Free Green Island & Reef Pinnacle Tour ($190/adult includes reef tax). There's a full list of options on the Cairns Visitor Centre website


A Weekend in Cape Tribulation

Friday June 19

So here I am in a cabin surrounded on all sides by rainforest aka Daintree Rainforest & National Park which is a World Heritage Site and part of Cape Tribulation (so named by Captain Cook because of his troubles navigating the reef there). No TV, no internet, no modern distractions except the ones I brought with me. 

 Home sweet home - for the weekend, anyways. 

Home sweet home - for the weekend, anyways. 

I arrived by bus around noon after a scenic drive up the Queensland coast from Cairns. The landscape alternated between rocky beaches, rugged mountains and tall, ripe fields of sugarcane. The journey also included a short ferry across croc-infested waters (actually almost all the water up here is full of "snapping handbags" as our driver/guide calls them) and a short walk through a small patch of roadside rainforest complete with tea, coffee and restrooms. I'm at a self-proclaimed "resort" called Ferntree in a 5 person dorm room but there are a few other lodging options in the area. These are the last traces of civilization before you head off into the great green yonder, preferably with 4WD. 

 I saw this sign on several occasions. 

I saw this sign on several occasions. 

This place lived up to its name at least at first because I had a few tribulations myself when I checked in. The girls at the desk immediately tried to upsell me on a bunch of overpriced excursions from horseback riding to snorkeling to zip lining but I declined as I think just having the opportunity to stay in a 100 million old rainforest is enough. Next they gave me a key and a map - one of those old-fashioned, rare, genuine paper maps no less - and directed me to room 55. When I walked in, I discovered that all five beds looked occupied so I dropped my rucksack and trekked back to the office to inform them that I was not planning to sleep on the floor. So they moved me next door to cabin 54, which pleased me to see that it was empty upon my arrival so I had my choice of bunk. I chose one right next to the window and made up my new sleeping spot with the linens provided. I did find it necessary to switch blankets with another bunk because the color scheme of mine was just tacky and visually awkward and I don't want to accidentally absorb some bad design vibes via osmosis while I sleep. 

After settling in it was time to find food, which should have been the nearby Cassowary Cafe which was open noon - 2:30 according to my archaic paper map. However when I got there, the lights were off, doors were locked and chairs stacked upside down on top of the tables inside. I can't be 100% certain but I'm pretty sure they were closed. 

Luckily a friendly middle-aged Aussie approached me saying that I looked lost. I said I was starving and my map lied to me and he confirmed that the cafe was only open for breakfast and dinner and had also changed its name to Off the Grid Cafe a few weeks ago. He asked "which of the great 50 states" I was from and I asked him to guess. He supposed California. I corrected him then we chatted for a bit. He was impressed that I was staying for 3 days because apparently most people just spend a single day and night here to cross it off their list. He directed me to walk through the forest to find food at a few other cafes and lodges nearby. 

After enjoying a roasted veggie wrap at the nearby Turtle Rock Cafe, I ended up at the community swimming hole (the safer alternative to the croc-inhabited oceans) with some new friends from Sweden & the Netherlands. I wasn't prepared at all for swimming but I was feeling spontaneous so I went anyways. We walked down the road at least a few kilometers then past a petrol station, across a field, through a small patch of tangled trees before we finally laid eyes upon the crystal clear creek. A handful of kids in their 20s were already congregated in the area, taking turns splashing into the deeper part via the raggedy old rope swing that hung from an even older tree limb. I took off my Birkenstocks and walked barefoot over the smooth yet perilously placed stones scattered across the creek bed. My mind wandered and I thought maybe some cultures might consider this some kind of natural, deep-tissue foot massage. 

 The swimming hole

The swimming hole

A few hours later we headed back to our respective lodges and when I re-entered my cabin around 4:30, I found two women asleep on two of the other bunks. One was snoring and one had stinky feet. Or maybe the sounds and smells were emanating from the same one - I don't know and I'm not investigating any further to find out. 

The cafe with an identity crisis that had thwarted me earlier was open for dinner around 6 so I went and was the only one out of a handful of customers that chose to sit outside. I ordered a glass of Chardonnay seeing as my top three wines (Rose, White Zin, Moscato) were unavailable and a Rege's Veges pizza with a circumference bigger than my head. It was very tasty and piled high with a veritable garden of veggies like pumpkin, spinach, tomato, onion and mushroom. The cheesy glue that held everything together was a blend of feta and mozzarella. I could only make it through 3/8 slices so I took the rest back to the fridge in my lodge for safekeeping. I got two more meals out of it the following day for lunch and dinner, which helps justify the $20 price tag. 

I fully intended on meeting up with my new friends again at their place PK's down the road and walked a few hundred meters before my imagination and fear took over. Once the lights from Ferntree had completely faded behind a paved hill, and now it was just me and stars and woods for what seemed like infinity, I panicked. Just my tiny flashlight and I were surely no match for whatever I was sure was lurking in these foreign woods. I was probably close to halfway to my destination but instead of walking, or more likely running, the rest of the way, I turned and walked briskly back to my cabin. Face palm. As I begrudgingly changed into my pajamas, I noticed my right leg now bears the marks of a battle zone with a record 10 bruises and three leech bites. The left leg by comparison has only two bruises and a small scrape on the knee. 

And then, just as the Brazilians (I discovered they were mother/daughter) and I were all in our beds about to go to sleep around 9 PM, we heard the clicking sound of key-in-lock as someone was attempting to open our door. In walked two guys in their twenties and I knew immediately by their accents that they were American. They said hello and immediately invited me and the Brazilian girl to join them for a beach party down the road. And they had a car. Now I had no excuse. I agonized over the decision for a moment then drug myself out of bed and to the bathroom to redo everything I had just undone. I was ready in about 5 minutes and John, Brian and I headed out to the parking lot to their car. Turns out they are finishing up a semester abroad in Sydney and took a side trip to Cape Trib during finals week. We drove a few kilometers north then parked on the side of the dirt road amongst several other cars. We walked down a steep grade in the dark and followed the sounds of music towards the party. There was a live band and a small bar where I ordered a bottle of cider. We followed the younger crowd out to the beach where we found a bonfire and sat around it chatting for a while. Long after I finished my drink, I was starting to get really tired and around 11 PM suggested we go back to Ferntree. They agreed since they needed to drive back to Cairns early and catch a flight back down South. 

Saturday June 20

I fell asleep pretty quickly but found it difficult to wake up the next morning. The Brazilians slept in too, which reinforced my decision to do so. By the time I was pretty much ready to go and the rain had let up enough, it was close to noon. 

I enjoyed some amazing walks through both the Dibuji and the Kulki rainforests of the Daintree National Park. They were both walking distance from Ferntree with Dijubi just down the hill and Kulki about 2 km north. There was tons of forest to explore and the greenery gradually transitions onto the beach and the beach becomes the Great Barrier Reef. I saw more kinds of plants than I can count and some pretty weird sand formations on the beach that are apparently made by crabs. 

The sun was going down by the time I finished Kulki but thankfully I ran into a cute, young Aussie couple that offered to give me a ride back to Ferntree. I had some serious Thoreau moments in the woods and wrote down almost everything I was thinking. I was walking pretty much nonstop from noon til sundown which was close to 6 PM since it is winter here at the moment. I did a few sketches in my moleskine and took tons of footage. 

 The canopy at Dubuji

The canopy at Dubuji

 Kulki National Park - Lookout

Kulki National Park - Lookout

 Crab Sand Art at Kulki

Crab Sand Art at Kulki

Once back at the lodge, I noticed I had the place all to myself as no one else had checked in while I was gone. I rested physically and mentally just for a bit before rolling out my mat on the front porch and doing about an hour and a half of yoga. Thanks to the humidity, I got good & sweaty & was ready for a nice hot shower but there was none to be found. It wasn't an ice cold shower but it was definitely below room temperature so I cleaned myself very quickly. I played with my gadgets and listened to the few songs I had on iTunes for a bit before I burrowed into bed. 

Sunday June 21

It was absolutely pouring rain this morning so I took my time getting up and packing. I had to check out of the room at 10 and my bus wouldn't arrive until 12 so I had a couple hours to kill. I walked down to a nearby cafe and had a muffin the was most likely devoid of any nutrition and an overly processed peach tea. One thing I do like about this place is the abundance of recycling receptacles - everywhere recycles here! By the time I finished my "meal" the sky levy had broken again. I waited as long as I could but it didn't let up so I had to walk back to Ferntree in the downpour. I wrapped my rain jacket around my backpack to keep it and all the gadgets inside dry and my umbrella was enough to keep me from getting soaked. So glad I did my exploring yesterday when it was relatively dry! 

I was the last to load the bus and had to take the only remaining seat up front to the left of the driver, which was fine. I never caught his name, but I'm going to name him Mr. Morbid because every story he told us during our return trip to Cairns involved death, dismemberment or despair. Seriously, there was the one about the American couple that was left out on a reef by their tour, never to be seen nor heard from again (presumed to be eaten by sharks), the one about a boy being attacked by a bull shark a few weeks ago, people that died during a heatwave a few years back, a plane crash that happened in the mountains decades ago and was not discovered until the 90's and then my personal favorite, the one about sugarcane farmers putting dynamite in trees full of cockatoos to blow them to keep their crops from becoming bird food. He looked at least part aboriginal and told us several of the old legends that had been passed down to him, most of which involved kidnapping young women, untimely deaths and lost souls forsaken to forever wander the Earth. So, yeah. It was a very interesting trip back.

Our bus stopped a few places along the way back, in between grisly stories, of course. At the Daintree Ice Cream Company which makes exotically flavored ice cream from the fruit that they farm. Today's flavors were Mango, Passionfruit, Jackfruit & Wattleseed, all of which were yummy because my sweet tooth doesn't discriminate. 

I wasn't terribly impressed with our next two stops, which entailed a short boat ride down the Daintree River and a pit stop at the Mossman Gorge. We saw exactly one snake, one and a half crocs (one was a just a foot long juvenile) and one frog on the "cruise". After seeing so many gators and other wildlife every time I've ventured out to the Everglades, the cruise was pretty lackluster. And the mangroves our guide kept gushing about just aren't exotic to me after living in Florida for so long. Later, we had less than an hour at the gorge, which had a bunch of natural elements I already saw on other tours: rainforest, river and a bunch of rocks - although the suspension bridge was pretty cool and reminded me of Costa Rica.  

I arrived back at Calypso later that evening and was beyond grateful to have a hot shower that night.